Updated: Apr 16
On January 12, 2022 the Dallas City Council Members (CM) unfortunately voted to approve Uplift Charter School to build a new campus in east Dallas to house students from their Luna schools. The new campus will be at I-30 and Buckner and less than one mile from Dallas ISD's Lang Middle School. This new site is within 3-7 minutes of at least four DISD elementary, two middle and two high schools.
Charter schools generally do not perform better than public schools, are a duplicate education system utilizing tax dollars without taxpayer oversight (no elected school board) and raise equity concerns as they do not accept all students, particularly students with greater and often more costly needs.
At the council meeting when asked about enrollment denials Uplift CEO Yasmin Bahtia replied repeatedly with misleading statements, including stating the only incidents of denying student enrollment are for "criminal incidents such as bringing a weapon to school or they are currently in an alternative placement (1)."
In fact Uplift's application filed with the Texas Education Agency states the school "provides for the exclusion of a student who has a documented history of criminal offense, juvenile court adjudication, or discipline problems under (Texas Education Code) TEC, Chapter 37, Subchapter A.” Uplift's student handbook notes "serious" discipline problems without further defining serious.
Discipline problems defined in Chapter 37 range from violations of the law to vague student conduct such as unruly or disruptive behavior resulting in a student being sent to the principal's office (Sec 37.002(b)(2).
Uplift reserves the right to exclude a student from even enrolling in their schools based only on past behavior that resulted in a discretionary determination and could have been when a student was very young or before it was determined that a student needed access to special education services.
Ms. Bahtia rationalized her disciplinary admission policy as being because “The state does not fund alternative placement schools for charter schools (1)."
In fact neither Independent School Districts (ISDs) nor charters receive specific funding to offer alternative placement programs. ISDs pay for alternative placements from the same source of funds that charters receive – the funds received from the Foundation School Program. However, while districts are required to provide for alternative placement, charters are not. Even so, some charters do provide alternative placement.
The important equity question is – why is Uplift denying enrollment to any student who has had a disciplinary issue and/or an alternative placement in their past? It isn't whether or not they choose not to provide alternative placement once the student is enrolled.
With regard to attrition rates, Ms. Bahtia stated Uplift's annual attrition rate across the entire network is 10% and she expects Luna's attrition to be within 5% of that (2).
In fact two weeks prior to her statements to Council, Uplift reported an average district attrition rate of 17.6% for 2020-21 with the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (3). The attrition rate for the Uplift Luna elementary campus specifically was 20.6%, and across all grades at Luna averaged 18.5%.
It's important to understand that charter schools are funded from the same pot of taxpayer money as ISDs. As students leave their neighborhood DISD school for a charter, often following fancy marketing mailers with college prep promises, the funding for the ISD campus is reduced. DISD has no choice but to increase class size and/or reduce instructional programs.
Once the new Uplift campus opens, estimating attrition conservatively at 15%, DISD's revenue will be reduced by an additional $2.7 million annually, as likely many if not most students will be recruited from the surrounding DISD campuses.
At DISD's JL Long Middle School in east Dallas the orchestra program was cut this year despite there being between 40 - 50 students enrolled. It seems pretty obvious that if we didn't operate two parallel systems (charters and ISDs) we wouldn't have such tight budget constraints.
(1) Dallas City Council Meeting, January 12, 2022, Item Z 27, Time Stamp 50:40. https://dallastx.swagit.com/play/01132022-523
(2) Dallas City Council Meeting, January 12, 2022, Item Z 27, Time Stamp 20:23 [link in (1)].
(3) Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB), Electronic Municipal Market Access (EMMA), Annual Financial Information and Operating Data: 2021 Continuing Disclosure Report – Uplift Education, TX, Posted 12/29/21. https://emma.msrb.org/IssuerHomePage/Issuer?id=939BECFBB4726892357AD05FBD1C7AF8&type=G
(select Financial Disclosures tab, advance pages to 12/29/21 Uplift Disclosure Report - pdf icon in column titled Disclosure Document, Student Retention Data pg 2)